Illustration: Eran Walkovich
About Sami Michael Association
Limelighting of Sami Michael's work – It reflects the versatility and pluralism in Israeli society, and describes the multifacial cultural and social texture of the State of Israel - as well as the accessibility of Michael's writing that encourages tolerance, brotherhood and social solidarity in the sense of "love your neighbor as yourself" for all layers and trends in Israeli society, as well as to readers around the world and researchers in the field of literature and society.
Encouragement of academic research and public discourse in these fields.
Founding a scholarship fund for students that deal with the Israeli society through literature.
bestowing Sami Michael Prize for individuals making unique contribution to Israeli society intending to reduce socio-economic gaps and to promote equal opportunities in all fields of social and public life.
About Sami Michael
Sami Michael was born in 1926, in Baghdad, Iraq. He was the first child of a large, secular, Jewish family (3 sisters and 5 brothers). At the age of 15, two years after the outbreak of World War II, he joined leftist underground group acting against the oppressive regime in Iraq, fighting for human rights and democratic values. Shortly after, he began to write articles for the Iraqi press. Because of his political activities a warrant for his arrest was issued in 1948, and in his absence the court sentenced him to death. Michael was forced to flee to Iran, where he joined the communist party, Tuda, and continued to be active in the struggle for a democratic Iraq. In 1949, fearing the Iranian authorities might extradite him to Iraq, Michael immigrated to Israel.
Arriving to Israel alone and having no family contacts in the new country, Sami, the lone immigrant, had to do odd jobs in order to survive. Thus, for example, he delivered newspapers and worked in the construction of buildings.
Later, he managed to find a job in journalism. For four years Michael worked as an editor for Arab language papers of the communist party – Al Itihad and Al Jadid. At the same time he had a satiric and popular weekly column in which he wrote stories and articles under the pseudonym Samir Mared. In 1955, disillusioned with the policies of the USSR, he terminated political affiliation with the communist party, and concluded his work on both newspapers.
Michael began working as a field hydrologist for the Hydrologic Authority, surveying water sources in wells, springs and rivers in the north of Israel. While working as a hydrologist (25 years), he completed his hydrology studies at the British Institute and then studied Psychology and Arabic Literature at Haifa University.
Upon graduating, at the age of 45 Michael embarked upon the project of mastering the Hebrew language. By sheer persistence and strong will, lacking any formal training, he managed to gain a complete mastery of his new language. In 1974 he published his first novel, in Hebrew (All Men are Equal – But Some are More).
Thus far, Sami Michael has published 11 novels (Victoria, A Trumpet in the Wadi, Aida) and three theoretical books focusing on cultural, political and social affairs in Israel (These are the Tribes of Israel, 1984; Unbounded Ideas, 2000; The Israel Experience, 2001). His novels cover a wide range of interlocking relationships between Jews and Arabs, Moslems and Christians, nationalists and communists and Iraq and Israel. In his writing he explores 'the other', mainly focusing on Arabs, women, refugees and immigrants, always with empathy and respect.
Michael is an author with a unique voice, who generated the revolution of pluralism in Israeli literature, and brought a new spirit that enriched it with the introduction of little-known societies, diverse characters with a new and original outlook on social mores. His polished writing style draws upon the treasures of the Hebrew language and the richness of his native Arabic.
Michael is known for his deep commitment to peace, justice and human rights. His writings have been widely published concerning literature, culture, socio-political aspects and also on the Israeli-Arab conflict.
In appreciation of his rich contribution to the world of literature and his commitment to peace and justice, Sami Michael has been awarded numerous prizes and citations in Israel and abroad. Among these are: EMET Prize, S.Y. Agnon Prize, Brener Prize, ACUM literatures for Life Achievement Award
Sami Michael has also received Honorary Doctorates Degree of Philosophy from 4 prestigious universities and Honoris Causa from 2 prominent academic colleges:
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1995): Sami Michael sheds light on aspects of life that rarely feature in Israeli literature and empowers his work with a use of true-life artistry that strips away outmoded myths and hackneyed forms of description. Michael is adept at identifying the social, psychological, and ideological processes running through Jewish and Arab society… in the spirit of the best of the world's literature. In appreciation of his literary accomplishments and in recognition of his contribution to Israeli society in furthering mutual understanding between the communities and peoples of the region.”
Ben Gurion University of the Negev, 2000: "In appreciation of a writer who has enriched Hebrew literature with his work, illuminating the life of people and communities in Israel and abroad. In honor of his strong spirit and his tireless efforts to reconcile different communities and peoples living in Israel, and further understanding and mutual respect; in honor of a writer who, overcoming great difficulties, has succeeded in defining his unique place in literature and achieve excellence in his literary expression. In his books, people are portrayed as they are - with their weaknesses and their virtues - with cold, at times almost cruel realism, yet always with compassion for mankind.”
Tel Aviv University, 2002: "for his significant contribution to Israeli culture as a unique literary voice and sociopolitical commentator. His role in redefining the Israeli experience by broadening its scope and introducing previously unmentioned themes; his ground-breaking work as a protest writer who expressed the discrimination felt both by new immigrants and Israeli Arabs; his aptitude for diverse expression, as reflected in his novels and in special recognition of his active and courageous involvement in Israeli public dialogue; his role as a leading figure in contemporary Hebrew literature.”
The University of Haifa, 2009: "in recognition of his prolific literary contribution, which reflects the many faces of Israeli society with respect for mankind and its freedom; his public activity that consistently expresses deep commitment to peace, justice and civilian rights; and his contribution to the advancement of mutual understanding between the different denominations and between Jews and Arabs."
Honoris Causa from The College of Management, Academic Studies, 2008: "For his contribution in Literature and for his activities on behalf of human rights"
Honoris Causa from Beit Berl, 2012: A day to celebrate Academic Excellence in Beit Berl started in bestowing honoris causa on Sami Michael: "For shaping the cultural landscape of Israeli society through his writings, way of thinking, and public activities; for promoting human and minorities rights in Israel; for - nurturing coexistence between Jews and Arabs and - encouraging values of equality and justice for all."
Honoris Causa from Gordon College of Education, 2016
Honoris Causa from The Academic Arab College for Education, Haifa, 2016
Other Works and Associations:
- Since July 2001 Sami Michael is the President of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
- Michael translated, from Arabic into Hebrew, the trilogy, A House in Cairo, by Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, laureate of the Nobel Prize for literature. The trilogy is now part of the academic curriculum in Israel. He also translated Arab poetry for a 45-part television series.
- Michael hosted a 13-part education television series on World Literature, where he engaged writers, researchers and scholars in discussion about their favorite literary masterpieces.
- Michael is known and admired by Jews as well as Arabs in Israel and abroad. His books are bestsellers and people from diverse social strata are his avid readers. His style has been nurtured by both the treasures of the Hebrew language and the wealth of the Arab language. In his writing he explores 'the other', mainly focusing on Arabs, women, refugees and immigrants, always treating them with empathy and respect.
- Sami Michael Way -(literary way)- The man is the crown of creation- Haifa, his hometown - a multicultural city, where Jews and Arabs live side by side – provides the setting of many of his novels. Since 2002 a special route in the Wadi Nisnas quarter was named after Michael: Sami Michael Way. Literary extracts from his novels are written along the walls of the route both in Hebrew and in Arabic. Michael dedicated three novels to Wadi Nisnas, (where he actually lived in the first few years upon his arrival in Israel) including “A Trumpet in the Wadi”. Throughout the year parties of school children, students and tourists visit the Wadi and are given guided tours of the route.
- In March 1998, Sami Michael was elected as the president of The Society for Solidarity between the People of Israel and the People of Iraq, a non-profit group founded by key public figures from cultural, academic and intellectual circles in Israeli society. The group, attracting much attention in Israel, the Arab world and elsewhere, stresses that a clear distinction ought to be made between the Iraqi oppressive regime and the Iraqi people, who has unjustifiably borne the horrifying consequences of the lasting conflict in the region. The request of the group, however, to be registered as an official non-profit organization was denied by the Interior Ministry’s registrar, claiming that Israeli law forbids “contact with enemy states.”
In April 2003, the founders reestablished the Society. Michael was reelected as its
- A documentary film about Sami Michael was made in 1996. The film, which reviews Michael’s life and work.
- Michael’s novels were translated into many languages. Some were adapted into theatre plays, television and films and won international acclaim.
- Sami Michael was appointed as an honorary member of the Arabic Language Academy in Israel in 2008.
- International Conferences on the works of Sami Michael were held at the Stanford University in 2007; at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in 2008; at Northwestern University in 2015